Megalo Dereio is a mountain village in the Evros regional unit near the border with Turkey. It is often used by human trafficking networks that smuggle undocumented migrants who manage to cross the river into the country. Meanwhile, the village is key in Greece’s regional defense planning.
Trafficking rackets bypass the Egnatia Highway, where police regularly carry out checks to crack down on smuggling, and instead transfer their “merchandise” via the Rhodope mountain range to Thessaloniki and Athens – or, alternatively, to nearby Bulgaria.
Over the past two years locals have been protesting the rise in thefts and burglaries and the authorities have deployed special forces in the area to curb migrant flows. Bulgaria has taken similar action on its side of the border.
However, Greek officials do not seem to have asked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his permission to patrol Greece’s own sovereign territory. As a result, the pro-establishment media on the other side of the border have reacted furiously to the presence of military forces in what they describe as “Turkish villages,” such as Soufli, denouncing it as a “provocation.” Turkish concerns are, of course, not limited to Soufli.
The Erdogan establishment is also experiencing a mental breakdown over the presence of US troops in the northern port city of Alexandroupoli and the Greek-American joint military drills at the Petrochori firing range, a Christian village in the Xanthi region.
So, after demanding the demilitarization of the Aegean islands based on a selective interpretation of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey now wants to have a say over Greece’s security structure in Thrace. At the same time, Ankara has armed its side of the Evros border like a lobster pointing its pincers at Greece.
It’s an irrational and risky behavior from a regime which, notwithstanding its apparent decline, seeks to ensure that whoever comes to power should Erdogan not win the next election sticks to a policy that challenges Greek sovereignty not only in the Aegean, but also in Thrace.
Greek steps to bump up security in Thrace do not contradict the Lausanne Treaty. It seems however that according to Erdogan’s reasoning, as well as those who hope to follow in his footsteps, the treaties give Turkey the right to claim what it wants for itself.